A Government Shutdown? – Good Conservatives Can Disagree

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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When it comes to the prospects of a government shutdown, many Republicans are gun-shy — and with good reason: They were blamed for it in 1995.

Should the government actually shut down again, you can be assured there will be plenty of sob stories written by the mainstream media about “non-essential” government workers put on furlough.

For example, this is from a 1995 CNN story:

Lacking a budget agreement, White House Budget Director Alice Rivlin ordered more than 260,000 federal workers — about 13 percent of government employees — to suspend operations. Last month’s shutdown affected 800,000 employees. Those being furloughed Monday still had to show up for work in the morning but were to be sent home immediately.

“It’s just stupidity,” said government worker Maureen Allen.

“I can balance my budget in a week. They ought to be able to do it themselves,” complained Fred Bustillos, a National Park Service employee furloughed over the weekend.

Make no mistake — we will see more stories like this if the government shuts down.  And the longer it lasts, the worse it will be.

Fear of garnering bad press, of course, should not drive public policy decisions.  What is more, it should be noted that a lot has changed since 1995.

First, of course, the public is much more worried about the budget deficit today. For example, a new Rasmussen survey shows that 57 percent of likely voters “think making deeper spending cuts in the federal budget for 2011 is more important than avoiding a partial government shutdown.”

Modern conservatives also have outlets like Fox News and blogs to push-back on the narrative today — something that was not the case in 1995.

Additionally, Barack Obama lacks the political talents of Bill Clinton, and Speaker John Boehner is less controversial than then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (who said the shutdown was partially due to his being snubbed by Clinton).

I think it’s debatable whether or not a government shutdown would — once again — be blamed on Republicans.

Times have certainly changed.  So the real question is: Is the possible benefit worth it if the potential bad press risks strangling the new Republican Revolution in its crib…again?

Some conservatives are arguing Republicans should avoid taking chances by simply cutting a deal and declaring victory on this year’s budget deal (in order to focus on the possible trillions of dollars that could be cut in Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s soon-to-be-proposed budget.)

As The Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continneti writes,

The right decision: Accept a deal to cut tens of billions of dollars in the remaining months of fiscal year 2011. This would not only avoid a shutdown. It would also begin to reduce the size of government, and that would be a real victory. Congress would pass the largest reductions in nondefense discretionary spending in decades. Democrats would implicitly concede that the federal government is spending too much money. And the decks would be cleared for Ryan, who plans to deliver his fiscal year 2012 Republican budget this week.

… Only time will tell which move is best for Republicans, but either way, it strikes me that this is more of a strategic decision than a philosophical litmus test.